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Flooding is one of the most disastrous things that can happen to a home. There are often health risks from sewage that may have mixed with rainwater as well as the high likelihood of mold and mildew. It presents a truly daunting task for individuals and families, especially those who are returning home after evacuating. In the case of widespread flooding after severe weather conditions, like Hurricane Harvey, it is often difficult to get professional help quickly because local, state, and federal resources are stretched thin. But getting your home dried out is critically important to both protect the integrity of your home and belongings as well as to protect against the health risks of mold.
While it is difficult not to get overwhelmed, the CDC, EPA, and FEMA have excellent advice for what to do if you need to tackle flood clean up yourself safely:
First, make sure your home is safe to enter with no structural, electrical or other hazards. In some cases, you may need to wait for a professional evaluation.
1. Wear personal protective equipment to cover your eyes, nose, mouth, and skin. This includes an N-95 respirator, tight fitting goggles, and protective gloves. Wear boots with substantial soles. There may be broken glass or other sharp objects on the floor.
2. Remove standing water and wet materials. If it is safe to do so, use a wet vacuum to remove water from floors, carpets, and hard surfaces. Dry your home and everything in it within 24 to 48 hours if you can. After that the risk of mold increases.
3. Open all doors and windows when you are working and leave as many open as is safe when you leave. Open inside doors, especially closets and interior rooms, to let air flow to all areas. Take doors off their hinges if you need to. Open kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanity doors; remove drawers, wipe them clean, and stack them to dry. Open the attic access to let air flow to the attic.
4. When electricity is safe to use, use fans and dehumidifiers to remove moisture. Do not use fans if mold has already started to grow or you suspect mold growth because the fans may spread the mold.
5. Clean with water and a mild detergent; do not use bleach. Remove all mold you can see. Dry right away.
6. If you use cleaning products, do not mix cleaning products together. DO NOT mix bleach and ammonia because it can create toxic vapors.
7. Painting or caulking over mold will not prevent mold from growing. Fix the water problem completely and clean up all the mold before you paint or caulk. Use non-toxic caulks and Zero- or Low-VOC paint.
8. Throw away items that can’t be effectively cleaned and completely dried, especially soft or porous items (like carpet, furniture, paper, fabrics) that remained wet with flood water for more than 48 hours. Any items that have been in contact with water contaminated by sewage or other unknown hazards should be discarded even if they can be dried out since simply removing the water will not remove the toxins. While it is difficult to part with personal possessions, your family's health and safety are more important!
For more information, download the EPA_Homeowners_and_Renters_Guide_MoldCleanUp
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